Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Best before: When you just need to dance like it's 1965

For everything, there is a season. There’s a time to be born, a time to die, a time to laugh and, as Greg Dixon finds out, a time to realise you’ve become a bit of a sad bugger.

'In the 21st century, the 20th century is still the boss, it is still the dominant pop cultural force.' Photo / Thinkstock
'In the 21st century, the 20th century is still the boss, it is still the dominant pop cultural force.' Photo / Thinkstock

There it was, I was dancing. I was hoofing it, capering, bopping ... and, God help me, waving an index finger around like some sort of skinny, white soul sister.

I'm sure my aimless, not-quite-rhythmic shuffling and jumping up and down wasn't quite so awful as, well, a full body dry heave set to music* - though how could I tell? But this wasn't what had me agitated - well, not really.

What was plaguing me was this: what I was dancing to was music that was so old that I'd first heard it, bought it and shuffled about to it more than a quarter of century earlier.

It was a blah Monday in summer 2012, and British post-punk band New Order was playing the Vector Arena. But me, I was dancing like it was 1985, when I saw them at the Logan Campbell Centre, and like 1987, when they played the Galaxy (now the Powerstation) and I, like a dweeby fan-boy, taped it on my Walkman for, you know, posterity.

Two-and-a-half decades later the band's songs again bounced around my ears - and around my memory. Half the setlist was from those 80s gigs: Ceremony, Age of Consent, Temptation, Blue Monday ... shuffle, shuffle, bounce, finger point, shuffle, shuffle ...

There was, I suppose, safety in numbers. The crowd was certainly sprinkled with hipsters who were in nappies in the mid-80s or not yet born. But the geezer count was high enough for me to blend in and to console myself that I wasn't the only one living with a disease that the medical profession might call peractorum afflictionem, and I'll call Nostalgia Affliction syndrome or Naff for short.

So as Naff as I am, I'm not alone. I wasn't the only one dancing and I wasn't the only one closing my eyes when New Order struck the first chords of some old song that we'd first got to know lying about in bedrooms with headphones on.

And I'm sure I wasn't alone wandering out of the arena, after an hour and a half of songs played not quite well enough or loud enough, feeling ever so slightly elated - but also ever so slightly hollow.

It hadn't helped that the band's encore of Blue Monday and Love Will Tear Us Apart was such a perfunctory and pointless ritual for both band and audience.

Still, I couldn't see the point of the joining in when the shit hit the social media the following day. "They were rubbish," said one post; it was "depressingly rawk by numbers", said another.

Music Naffs like nothing better than arguing the merits of this gig over that gig, or that line-up versus this line-up. But I couldn't helping thinking the point wasn't whether they should they have played Denial or Everything's Gone Green, if the new bass player was rubbish and nothing like the guy he replaced, Peter Hook, or whether this was the greatest or worst New Order gig any of us had seen.

No, the point was that, for better or worse, we'd got to wallow like lucky, mucky pigs in a place I, for one, have been spending far too much time in of late, the past.

Split Enz were wrong, history repeats. Actually, it repeats and repeats and repeats. You'd have to be blind and deaf not to have noticed.

This year - and it's only mid-March - has seen New Zealand fans queuing up to hear the Doobie Brothers, Little River Band, Roxette (though they cancelled), Sisters of Mercy, Roger Waters playing The Wall, Rod Stewart, Village People and, of course, New Order. In the coming weeks and months, there will be tours by Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, John Cooper Clarke, Earth, Wind & Fire, Yes, The Specials (I'll be there!), Steve Earle, KRS-One, The Sonics, Radiohead ... the list goes on and on.

A quick calculation puts the combined age of all these acts at about a 160 million years old - which puts us firmly in the middle of the Jurassic Period, pop-culturally speaking.

Announcements that this or that old act is reforming to tour seem to happen weekly. I can't say I was shocked (a little surprised maybe) when I read that Engelbert Humperdinck will be representing Britain at this year's Eurovision Song Contest. So what if he's 75 years old and last had a song in the British top 20 in 1972?

It isn't just music, Hollywood seems to be stuck on repeat too, with at least 50 - yes, 50 - remakes of old Hollywood hits apparently in the works including, god help us, Dirty Dancing, My Fair Lady, Robocop, Romancing the Stone and (why, why, why?) Scarface.

In the 21st century, the 20th century is still the boss, it is still the dominant pop cultural force. But is this simply a matter nostalgia and an ageing population, or is it something else? As the Atlantic magazine writer James Parker wondered aloud in piece last October: "has pop culture, uh, stopped?"

Is it the iPod and iTunes that are responsible? Is it YouTube and all the rest on the web? The instant, low-or-no-cost access to pretty much all music (and everything else), all the time isn't helping the state of pop music (or pop culture), Parker believes.

British music critic Simon Reynolds, whose recent book, Retromania, Parker quotes, is of the same view: "It's glaringly obvious," Reynolds says, "that all the astounding, time-space rearranging developments in the dissemination, storing and accessing of audio data have not spawned a single new form of music."

Which is no doubt true. At January's Laneway Festival - an event I've been to three times to see what the kids are doing - I was saddened, with one exception, by how dull the so-called cutting edge of independent music has become.

The overload of tours by old bands possibly reflects the current state of the business of the music business too, with the money found on the road rather than through the recording studio.

But I don't blame that, or my iPod or the internet or the flaccid state of music for my bad dancing to old music. It's my fault - well, if growing old is my fault.

A caring friend suggested to me that good music is timeless and us listening to New Order in 2012 was no different from listening to, say, Beethoven. The latter isn't nostalgia, so why is the former?

But Beethoven and the like aren't part of my story, or my self-mythologising view of my past. And I never saw him play the Galaxy.

The reality is that age isn't just taking its toll on my body, it's taking its toll on my taste too. I still buy new music, but less and less, and little of it finds its way into the place in my heart where New Order, The Smiths, Husker Du and The Pixies have lived for 20 years or more.

Musically, culturally, I've become the equivalent of those old jokers you see waiting for the bus home from town, the ones wearing the best suit they own, a suit probably bought 30 years ago. I am that poor, sad old bugger, but like him I'm still proud.

Hence, when New Order's old bass player announced he was coming to town in April to play Joy Division's Closer, an album released in 1981, I naturally bought a ticket to the show as soon as I could. When you're totally Naff, there's nothing you can do but accept your fate.

* This is a quote from Seinfeld, a 20-year-old television show. Because I'm a Naff, I remember it word-for-word and I continue to laugh every time I think of it.

- NZ Herald

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